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Prayer and the Autonomic Nervous System

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By Kimberly Burnham

Do you have a regular prayer practice? Does it promote relaxation, minimize anxiety, improve your visual focus and reduce your cardiovascular risk?

A 2014 study on Muslim prayer (Salat) entitled, “Effect of Muslim prayer (Salat) on alpha electroencephalography and its relationship with autonomic nervous system activity” by  Doufesh H, Ibrahim F, Ismail NA and Wan Ahmad WA, found, “During salat, parasympathetic activity increased and sympathetic activity decreased. Therefore, regular salat practices may help promote relaxation, minimize anxiety, and reduce cardiovascular risk.”

So what does this mean in terms of health benefits? The parasympathetic nervous system, one parts of the autonomic nervous system is also known by the nickname, “rest and digest.” With parasympathetic activity increased your ability to rest and to digest your food increases. I had a nutrition teacher who used to say, “You can get more nutritional value from a hot dog with friends than the best organic, gourmet meal with people you can’t stand.”

The sympathetic nervous system is also known as the “fight or flight” system. Part of the autonomic nervous system, the sympathetic system raises blood pressure.

The study in The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine also, “showed a significant positive correlation in the occipital and parietal electrodes.”  This means the occipital lobe of the brain in the back of the head and the parietal lobe on the top of the head is positively affected by regular prayer. One of the primary functions of the occipital lobe is vision. When the sympathetic nervous system is on high alert, the pupils dilate. This mean your distance vision is broader but less focused. The study indicates that with a regular prayer practice your ability to see clearly and use your eyes in a focused way for reading or studying increases.

The parietal lobe is the sensory cortex or home to our ability to take in sensory information like the color of red, the sound of birds outside the window, the texture and warmth of a baby’s face, the smell of freshly cut grass, or the taste of dark chocolate.

It makes me wonder how a regular prayer practices for children and adults would contribute to education in our society and overall health via improved digestion.

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